Apple pushing to open Arizona sapphire plant to start producing ‘critical’ component

GT Advanced (furnaces, Pocketnow 001)

By now, most of you have probably heard that Apple has teamed up with manufacturing partner GT Advanced Technologies to open up a plant in Mesa, Arizona for producing sapphire. The plant is nearly ready to open, and Apple has already begun hiring engineers.

Up until now, though, little has been known about what kind of parts this sapphire factory would be producing. But some new documents just surfaced that may help fill in the blanks. Apparently, Apple is going to use the plant to produce a new ‘critical’ component…

9to5Mac tracked down the documents, which show correspondence between US Foreign Trade Zone officials and Apple’s Deputy Director of Global Trade Compliance James Patton, regarding the plant. And in one letter, he asks that approval for opening be expedited.

Here’s why:

“Project Cascade will conduct high-tech manufacturing of intermediate goods/components for consumer electronics. All finished components will be exported. This high-tech manufacturing process will create a critical new sub-component of Apple Products to be used in the manufacture of the consumer electronics that will be imported and then sold globally. By pulling this process into the U.S., Apple will be using cutting edge, new technology to enhance and improve the consumer products, making them best in class per product type.”

As noted by the site, while Apple currently uses sapphire for small parts like iSight camera lenses and Touch ID covers, the language used in these documents suggest something more important. So what ‘critical new sub-component’ could Apple be making out of the glass?

GT Advanced (sapphire slabs, Pocketnow 001)

The consensus seems to be that Apple is planning to use sapphire screens in its next iPhone. Last week, Taiwan Daily reported that Foxconn had begun a 100 unit trial run of an iPhone with a sapphire glass display, and the company has several patents related to the tech.

In the documents, Apple says that it would like the Arizona plant to go live in February, so it can start production right away. This suggests that the sapphire component is going to start showing up in products sooner, rather than later. So is it for iPhones? iPads? iWatch?

What do you think?